New York Giants: San Francisco 49ers
The former Giants running back, who spent his first seven seasons with Big Blue and earned two Super Bowl rings before joining the 49ers, has yet to play in a game this year, after suffering a knee injury during the preseason.
“Right now could I go out and play? Yes,” Jacobs told reporters Thursday, according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “But would it be smart? No. I’m taking the opportunity I have to get healthy.”
Jacobs sang a different tune on Wednesday, however, telling Mike Garafolo of USA Today, "I feel great. I feel phenomenal. My leg is as fresh as yours."
When asked about possibly not suiting up against the Giants on Sunday, Jacobs said, "It would disappoint me a lot. But like I said, it's not my call."
Sounds like Mr. Jacobs is not a happy camper on the West Coast -- even if he tried to put a positive spin on things Thursday.
One thing's for sure -- the 49ers have been fine without him. San Francisco leads in the NFL in rushing, averaging 196.2 yards per game.
Ah, but Coughlin is shrewd. He knows this no-respect thing doesn't have to be rooted in truth to work where he needs it to work. The fact that there's no legitimate proof that people don't think Coughlin's defending Super Bowl champs are a good team is a minor and irrelevant detail. You can say anything you want, and in this case Coughlin knows the precise effect his outlandish claim Wednesday will have.
He knows the people who cover the team will go to every single Giants player they can find and ask them what they think about this outrageous lack of respect the world supposedly has for their roster and its accomplishments. He knows this becomes the dominant story of the week in his locker room. And although it might not get the headlines that Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and Raul Ibanez are getting in New York today, that doesn't matter. It will work where he needs it to work -- in the heads and hearts of his players.
That's important this week. The Giants are 3-2, which is fine, but you can make the case that they've been muddling along. The wins are against the Buccaneers, Panthers and Browns, and the losses are potentially damaging division setbacks to the Cowboys and the Eagles. There are all kinds of injuries at key spots, and though the pass-rushers are healthy, the pass rush is curiously absent. The Giants have only eight sacks this season. Only five teams in the league have fewer than eight, and not one of them is famous for building two recent Super Bowl titles on a dominant pass rush.
The Giants need something to wake them up. As great as many of the players in their locker room are, that room isn't overloaded with self-starters. Justin Tuck is the poster child for that room -- a tremendous player when motivated, but not always motivated. Tuck gets down about bad games. His mind wanders a bit. He starts to feel sorry for himself. He's a thoughtful guy who has acknowledged all of this, so it's not as though I'm just sitting here ripping him about it, but it happened last season, and it seems to be happening again. One of Coughlin's great strengths as a coach is that he knows his team well, and right now he almost certainly sees a team that needs something to wake it up a little -- to make it mad, because when the Giants play mad, the Giants play great.
This week, facing a trip to San Francisco to play a team that might well be the best in the league, Coughlin can't afford to have his players moping and muddling. With no certainty about whether Hakeem Nicks or a slew of other very important players will be healthy enough to play Sunday, Coughlin can't afford to have his healthy players at anything less than their best. So he must find a way to turn up their intensity level, and he knows from vast experience with this group that the "no respect" idea is a technique that works.
The Giants responded to it all of last season, throughout their playoff run and right through the Super Bowl. They proclaimed, after February's victory against the New England Patriots in Indianapolis, that no one had picked them to win the game, even though this was patently false. And when they arrived in training camp this year, it started right up again. Giants players talked constantly about a league-wide lack of respect. Tuck complained that all of the experts were picking the Eagles and the Cowboys to win the division, when about half of the experts picked the Giants and I don't know anyone who picked the Cowboys. It works with this bunch. It's something that gets their attention, gets their back up, gets them to play with greater intensity and focus and anger than they're inclined to do without it. Coughlin knows this, and that's why it just happened to come up this week.
The Giants can obviously go to San Francisco on Sunday and win. This would not be some kind of huge upset. They nearly won there in the regular season last season, and they did win in the NFC Championship Game. Both times, the Giants played a tougher, more determined and more physical game than they play most weeks. The NFC Championship Game was as nasty and physical a game as any two NFL teams played all year, and the Giants were tougher in the end. They know they have this in them. It's going to be difficult to muster the same kind of intensity this week for a game whose winner does not automatically go to the Super Bowl. But Coughlin knows he needs at least some of it in order for the Giants to deliver the type of effort this game and this opponent and this venue will demand of them.
If the Giants play Sunday the way they've played for most of this season, they could get blown out. If they play the way they're capable of playing when they feel the world's against them, they will make life very difficult for the 49ers and could beat them. And if they do beat them, watch next week for NFL Films video of Coughlin in the postgame locker room telling his team, among other things, that no one thought they could. Won't matter for a second that it wasn't true, because it will have worked.
"I knew I was going to do it," Thomas said. "I was just thinking today was one of those crazy days where something crazy's going to turn the game. And I had a vision in my mind that I would be the guy who did it."
Thomas made two such plays Sunday. He recovered two fumbles on punt returns by Kyle Williams, the 49ers' backup return man. The first set the Giants up for a go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown at a time when they appeared totally incapable of moving the ball against the San Francisco defense. The second came in overtime, and a few minutes later, after Lawrence Tynes kicked the second NFC Championship Game-winning field goal of his career, the Giants had a 20-17 victory and a date with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
"Our guys never quit, never have any doubts," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who spent his night being knocked around by fearsome 49ers defenders but never flinched, completing 32 of 58 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. "We just keep believing and keep fighting until the very end, no matter what the circumstances are."
These Giants are as improbable a Super Bowl participant as the NFL has seen in some time. Widely predicted (especially here) to miss the playoffs during the preseason, losers of four games in a row in a tough stretch in late November and earlier December, their record stood at 7-7 after a Week 15 loss to the division-rival Redskins. They have not lost a game since. If they had -- if they'd lost even one of the five games they've played since that loss to Washington -- they would not still be playing. The defining aspect of these Giants is their toughness, but out of that over the past five weeks has grown a patience and a discipline that's rooted in intense self-belief and has propelled them to unexpected heights.
"They have grit, now," a beaming head coach Tom Coughlin said of his second Giants Super Bowl team. "We've had five straight single-elimination games. We've played an awful lot of superior football teams this year, and that has certainly helped."
But no one could have seen this coming. Not from 6-6 or 7-7 and certainly not from the preseason, when they were dealing with a major injury per week and everybody was in love with the offseason the Eagles had. Back then, there was no way to know that Jason Pierre-Paul would become one of the best pass rushers in the league or that Victor Cruz would become one of its best wide receivers. The odds against both of those things happening were astronomical.
"I think we knew, here in this locker room," said rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams, who stripped the ball from Kyle Williams so that Thomas could pounce on it in overtime. "You see the talent those guys have on the practice field and you know it's just a matter of when they're going to get their opportunity."
"Rookies don't usually have an opportunity to play," he said. "Especially when you got picked in the sixth round."
But this has been an all-hands-on-deck kind of season for the Giants, and opportunities have piled up. Brandon Jacobs got an opportunity to be a big part of the running game again when Ahmad Bradshaw got hurt. Bradshaw had the bigger game Sunday, but Jacobs has been a key part of the current streak. Osi Umenyiora came back from a late-season ankle injury and has elevated the pass rush to teetering heights, terrorizing quarterbacks and forcing fumbles during this run and helping Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck get free to wreak their own havoc.
"I love these guys. They've had my back the whole time," said Umenyiora, who's transformed from cranky contract complainer to peaceful, happy team player in a span of a few months. "So I wasn't going to come back and be selfish. I just wanted to come back and do what they need me to do, whatever that is. That's what I've done and it's had an impact."
This Giants team may have led the league in surprise clutch performances. You may be able to say you thought Cruz would be good, or that Pierre-Paul would come on quickly, or that Umenyiora would put his personal stuff aside for the good of the team. You may be able to say you knew Manning was going to play turnover-free football in the conference title game against a team that forced 43 turnovers in its first 17 games. You may be able to say you knew Mathias Kiwanuka was going to change positions and be a critical part of the defense, or even that you believed Williams and Thomas would be making key plays in the biggest game of the season.
But to say you saw all of that coming? You'd have to be crazy to expect anyone to buy that. These Giants represent the reason we watch sports -- to be surprised and amazed, to see human beings push their own limits and achieve things few expected of them. These Giants are overachievers, a team that has found ways to win all year when it didn't appear they should. And you can't be that without getting big-time contributions from every corner of the roster.
"I think we always believed -- in ourselves, in our coaches, in our plan, in each other," wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said. "And that's the reason why we're here."
There are so many reasons, and they range from the obvious to the obscure. Nobody picked Thomas to make the plays that won the NFC Championship Game, because Thomas is the kind of guy you have to work hard to remember is still on the team. But as the Giants left their locker room late Sunday night, Thomas carried the ball he'd recovered in overtime and got right back on the bus where he'd envisioned himself doing just that. It may have been a surprise to the rest of us, but it wasn't to Thomas, and it wasn't to the Giants. There are many, many people who are surprised to find the Giants still standing. But the Giants are not among them. They may not have known how they were going to do this, but they always believed they would. And it's quite a varied and remarkable collection of players that has found a way.
Hey, Blake, where's Jerry, Elaine and Kramer?
Costanzo has proven there's more to him than a last name that makes people smile. He's an undersized linebacker out of Franklin Lakes, N.J., a former NFL walk-on fired four times by three different teams. He refused to quit, kept coming back because he never doubted he was good enough, and now here he is, one game from the Super Bowl.
When the San Francisco 49ers' kicking teams are on the field Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, look for No. 51. Chances are, he'll be around the ball, doing something -- anything -- to disrupt the New York Giants. Watch closely, because he might be a blur on your screen.
Costanzo is the best special-teams player on arguably the best special-teams unit in the league. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate, a rather dramatic rise from his days as an undrafted free agent who had to pull a "Rudy" to get noticed.
"It hits you at certain times of day," Costanzo said this week in a phone interview. "I'll be driving home from work and I'll be thinking, 'Wow, if we win this game, we're in the Super Bowl.' It's something I've dreamed about since I was a kid."
Costanzo grew up in Giants country, but he was a 49ers fan. He got hooked after watching those classic 49ers-Dallas Cowboys games in the 1990s, and he also was inspired by an old TV feature on Jerry Rice and his relentless training regimen.
He adopted Rice's all-out mentality, and it got him from a successful career at tiny Lafayette College to the Jets' training camp.
Costanzo soon discovered the harsh reality of the NFL food chain. He was told that, as an undrafted rookie, he probably wouldn't see any action in the first preseason game. He refused to accept that and asked one of the Jets' assistant coaches what he had to do to get in.
The coach told him he needed to outperform the rookie ahead of him on the depth chart, Anthony Schlegel, a third-round pick from Ohio State. Costanzo accepted the challenge, with a request.
"I told the coach, 'Put me against him on every scout team, every rep,'" Costanzo said. "I treated every practice like it was the Super Bowl. I went a million miles an hour."
Costanzo outdid Schlegel (now out of the league), got into that first game and impressed then-coach Eric Mangini so much that he was singled out in the team meeting. He had a chance to make the team, but he fractured his wrist later in camp and didn't make it. Didn't make it in 2007, either.
He ended up with the Buffalo Bills for two seasons, the Cleveland Browns for two years and finally to San Francisco, where finished the 2011 season with 17 special-teams tackles. He came up big last week, recording a forced fumble and fumble recovery in the divisional win over the New Orleans Saints.
"I don't want to be just a regular guy who plays special teams," he said. "I want to make a difference."
Costanzo is only 6-foot-1, 235 pounds, and he's not going to burn up anybody's stop watch with his speed. But he's a fearless, a must on special teams. Relentless, too; he doesn't stay blocked.
"He's just a guy, physically ... but he has something else to him that is not a measurable," special teams coach Brad Seely told the San Francisco Chronicle. "He's not the biggest guy. He's not the fastest guy. He's not the strongest guy. But on Sundays, he's a pretty, pretty good football player."
Costanzo is all about football. In the Bay Area, he lives in a mostly empty apartment because who has time for interior decorating? All he has is a bed and TV. He's so humble that he used to help the Browns' equipment staff by folding towels.
Like we said, he's Rudy -- except this Rudy gets into the games when it matters.
"I consider myself a big person," he said. "I live life with a passion and with my heart. I go by feeling, and I never had a feeling in my soul that football was done for me. I convinced myself I could play at this level."
He's making a name for himself, even if his name makes us think of George.
"They're very, very solid," Quinn said on Thursday. "Exceptional punter, exceptional kicker, great returner. They are very well-rounded and very well-coached."
Punter Andy Lee led the NFL in both average (50.9) and net (44.6) yards per punt.
The Giants may catch a break, though. Talented return man Ted Ginn missed practice for the second straight day on Thursday, after sustaining a knee injury against the Saints last weekend.
But Quinn said Ginn's backup will also pose a threat. "They got another guy. It is [Kyle] Williams, he'll probably be the guy. He's got some good returns on tape, punt returns and kickoff returns. We're preparing for both."
Ginn was third in the NFL in average yards per kickoff return this season (27.6), and fourth in average yards per punt return (12.3), scoring a touchdown on each.
"He's a great player, but they've got other good players," Quinn said. "They’re so well-rounded, they block well, so you can put [in] another returner that's got good speed, and good running skills."
NEW YORK GIANTS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN PRACTICE
RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE
LB Mark Herzlich (ankle)
QB Eli Manning (illness)
DE Justin Tuck (shoulder)
DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle/knee)
CB Corey Webster (hamstring)
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN PRACTICE
WR Ted Ginn (knee)
S Dashon Goldson (ankle)
C Jonathan Goodwin (calf)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE
TE Delanie Walker (jaw)
"It was a little bit of disrespect," Cruz said when asked on Wednesday. "I understand it was something I do and to do it on me and do it front of our sideline, it was a little disrespectful. But I understand that, it's all part of the game. Things happen and guys are going to do that. He wasn't the only one to mock that dance throughout the season."
In the second quarter of the teams' game on Nov. 13, Giants quarterback Eli Manning tried to hit Cruz down the field but Rogers jumped in front of Cruz and hauled in the interception. He did the salsa dance near Cruz and in front of the Giants' bench.
When asked if he owes the Pro Bowl cornerback for his dance, Cruz said that the media can answer that question, but didn't deny that he has a chance to get some revenge.
"A little bit," Cruz said.
Cruz finished that game with six catches for 84 yards but did not get to the end zone, preventing him from being able to do his own salsa dance. Sunday, he'll try to get the final word -- and dance -- against Rogers and send his team to the Super Bowl.
"It's just a matter of seeing him again and understanding that there were some positive things I did against him in the first game," Cruz said when asked of things he can take from his first encounter with Rogers. "I'm probably going to have to stick to those things and watch the film.
"He's gotten a lot better obviously since then, doing a lot of good things. It's just a thing with Rogers as the game goes on, see where he's favoring, see which way he's leaning toward, and just try to calculate and move off the way his body shifts."
Asked about what was "almost" a touchdown, the Giants wide receiver wasn't happy.
"Almost? Almost, right?" Manningham said. "I ain't catch it. You playing wide receiver you got to have a short-term memory, man. Should've had it."
He will get a chance to rewrite that history on Sunday when the Giants head back to San Francisco for a rematch in the NFC Championship Game. Manningham said his knee felt good, and agreed with the idea that it's better than it has been all season.
Manningham has been a contributing member of the wide receiving corps recently, and had three catches for 31 yards in the 37-20 win over Green Bay last Sunday.
"We're a different team than we was earlier," Manningham said.
It's easy enough to peek around the corner and see the Super Bowl there for the taking. Manningham conceded that could be a risk for a team, but not for the Giants given the fact that they lost to the 49ers earlier.
"It'd be different if we didn't play this team,” Manningham said. "But we played them and we know what they bring. We know we got to win. They beat us last time so we can't look past them."
Although some on the current Giants roster might remember what it feels like to be in the playoffs and win a Super Bowl, Manningham notes that it isn't the wide receivers.
"This our first time as wide receivers being in the playoffs," Manningham said. "I mean, yeah, we're enjoying it, but we know what we're here for. To win it. For real. We're here, why not go win it all? We made it this far."
When he takes a look at the rise of his former team, the 49ers, and former teammate Alex Smith, the Giants' backup quarterback believes their success stems from first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh. The Giants meet the 49ers on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
"I went out there because they had a very talented football team and the only thing they were missing was they had to bring it all together. And Harbaugh has done that, and that's the reason why they're in the NFC Championship Game," Carr said. "It's not a surprise to me that they're here, it's not a surprise that Alex is in the game. They were always talented. They were always a good football team."
Ultimately, the 49ers changed coaching regimes for this season and brought in Harbaugh, who led the team to the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The 49ers cut Carr in July and he re-signed with the Giants, winning the backup job to quarterback Eli Manning. Carr has not played in a game this season but had to take first-team reps on Wednesday with Manning's sickness.
Carr said Wednesday that his one year with San Francisco was a rough situation for everyone involved, even mentioning how Smith went from being the starting quarterback to being demoted to the backup during the year.
"Now you see where [Smith] is at, we're both in different positions but we're both in the NFC Championship Game. They got a great head coach, they're rolling, I'm happy where I'm at, so it's a totally different world from where we were all at a year ago," Carr said.
As the 49ers went 13-3 this season, one of the biggest reasons was the play of Smith, the often-criticized quarterback. Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, struggled to put it all together before finally having a career year this season. A former No. 1 pick himself, Carr said that he roots for Smith and is happy for him.
"I think we all kind of have a bond, quarterbacks in general. You never want to see a guy struggle, never want to see a guy have tough times. He's had enough of both," Carr said. "I think that to where he's come out the other end is a testament to his mental toughness. Being with him for a year I think that's his strongest quality I took away from him, how mentally tough he is and how he can kind of just shrug things off and keep going the course. It's pretty impressive."
What we do now is look ahead to Sunday's NFC Championship Game between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. It's going to be a different kind of game for the Giants. The 49ers don't have the array of passing-game weapons that recent Giants opponents such as the Packers, Falcons and Cowboys have. They will attack the Giants differently, and the best thing the 49ers have going for them is a defense that looked fast, tough and terrifying for most of the game against the Saints on Saturday night.
San Francisco finished fourth in the league in total defense, allowing just 308.1 yards per game, and first in rush defense by a mile, allowing just 77.3 yards per game. That would seem to bode ill for a Giants team that finished last in the league in rush offense. But the numbers from the head-to-head matchup between these teams in San Francisco in Week 10, even though the Giants lost it, offer some hope for the Giants.
The 395 yards of total offense the Giants had against the 49ers was the fourth-highest total any team posted against San Francisco all season. Only the Eagles (513 in a Week 4 loss), Cowboys (472 in a Week 2 overtime victory) and Saints (472 in Saturday's playoff loss) had more yards in a game against the Niners this season.
Even more encouraging, the Giants had 93 rush yards in that game, which is the fourth-highest total of rush yards any team had in a game against the Niners this season. Marshawn Lynch's Seahawks had 124 in Week 16, Steven Jackson's Rams had 111 in Week 17 and LeSean McCoy's Eagles had 108 in that Week 4 game in Philadelphia. All of those games were victories for the 49ers, but the Giants have run the ball considerably better over the past seven weeks, and in the Week 10 game in San Francisco they did not have running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who was out with a foot injury at the time. Brandon Jacobs had 55 yards on 18 carries, and D.J. Ware kicked in 34 yards on nine carries.
A healthy Bradshaw on Sunday, plus the drastic improvements the Giants have made in run blocking over the past two months, plus the film they can watch of their offense having success against this very tough 49ers defense, are all assets for the Giants as they prepare for the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers likely aren't going to miss as many tackles as the Packers did Sunday, but the Giants have proof that they can move the ball against them anyway. The key, as it always is, will be to avoid the turnovers. The Giants outgained the 49ers by 90 yards in Week 10, but Eli Manning threw two interceptions, and they lost by seven points.
Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes was in a good mood after the 37-20 win over the Packers. He joked that the Giants had acquired a secret weapon this season by signing punter Steve Weatherford.
"If you want to go to the championship game, just sign Steve Weatherford," Tynes said, "because this is his fourth one in six years and that's with three different teams, so that's really impressive."
Weatherford went to the two most recent AFC title games with the Jets, and before that played in an NFC title game with the Saints. That said, he has never reached a Super Bowl. So many near-misses have sharpened his approach to the game.
"If we're not going to win it all, it's all for nothing," Weatherford said. "I think every single person in this locker room feels the exact same way. We're hungry, we think we're the best team in the NFL and we're playing like it. I feel we all have the attitude of line 'em up, we'll knock em down."
Weatherford said the Giants kept an eye on San Francisco and the Packers after regular-season losses.
"We said the same thing about both these teams in the regular season: We'll see the again. And oddly enough we get a chance to get revenge on both of them."
So can the Giants beat the 49ers and reach the Super Bowl this season?
"I don't think it matters who it is right now," Weatherford said. "As long as we play our game, I don't think it matters. That's not arrogance, that's just kind of the way it is right now. We're playing great football we have great synergy in the locker room."
Niners defensive end Justin Smith usually saves his jawing for the officials who never seem to flag opposing linemen for holding calls. At least that's the way Smith sees it.
But on Sunday, Smith actually had a few laughs between snaps with Giants center David Baas, a teammate of Smith's for three seasons in San Francisco.
While Baas voice dripped with disappointment after the narrow 27-20 loss to his former team, he admitted that he was happy for his erstwhile teammates. After spending his first six seasons in San Francisco, Baas signed a five-year, $27.5 million deal with the Giants in August.
"I'm not glad we lost the game, but I'm glad for them," Baas said. "They deserve this success."
Another former 49er probably had different emotions. Tight end/H-back Bear Pascoe grew up on a cattle ranch in Eastern California as a lifelong 49ers fan. He then attended Fresno State and was drafted by his favorite team in the sixth round in 2009.
But his 49ers tenure ended badly. After getting constantly badgered by former 49ers tight ends coach Pete Hoener, Pascoe was released and then picked up the Giants. Pascoe's pent-up frustration seemed to come out during a 14-yard reception in the third quarter.
"It felt great," Pascoe said. "It kind of gave us a spark and got the guys motivated."
They wanted to know what happened.
"I have to make that," Manningham lamented. "I have to come down with that."
The play occurred as the Giants were trying to make any fourth-quarter comeback in a season full of them. Manningham got behind rookie cornerback Chris Culliver with 2:57 left and the Giants trailing 27-20. Manningham would have easily scored a 42-yard touchdown if only he gathered in Eli Manning's slightly overthrown pass.
Manningham was questionable before the game when his knee swelled on Saturday. Manningham played and made a number of fingertip grabs. He caught six of 10 passes Manning threw his way for 77 yards and one touchdown.
As for the one that got away, Manning tried to wrestle the blame away from his wide receiver.
"It seemed close. It is one of those you will look at [on] film and hate yourself for it," Manning said. "He was so open."
Despite that miss, the Giants remained confident they would tie up the game. After the overthrow, Manning completed his next three passes to get the Giants down to the 49ers' 10-yard line with 1:53 left. But the Giants turned the ball over on downs and turned the game over to the 8-1 49ers.
"We thought we were going to come out with a touchdown," Manningham said. He played alongside the hampered Hakeem Nicks, who was listed as questionable all week with a strained hamstring. Nicks caught only two passes, but one of them went for a crucial 32-yard touchdown which cut the 49ers lead to seven in the final quarter.
Slot receiver Victor Cruz was the team's leading receiver Sunday with six catches for 84 yards, and often he had his way with the 49ers' best cornerback, Carlos Rogers. "I got the best of him throughout the game," Cruz said.
Rogers, however, was able to pick off an underthrown effort tossed to Cruz for his first of Rogers' two interceptions. On the play, Rogers stayed underneath Cruz and intercepted Manning's pass.
Overall, the Giants made a number of terrific catches, but the one that got away will likely haunt them.
"You have to explain it to me," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Sometimes they catch 'em, sometimes they don’t."
With the veteran Boley sidelined, the 49ers pulled a couple of fast ones on rookies Greg Jones and Spencer Paysinger in the Giants' 27-20 loss at San Francisco.
Boley is so important to the Giants' defense, it takes two players to replace him. Paysinger went in to play Boley's Will linebacker spot, but rookie Jones took on the more immense task of calling plays and making the last-second adjustments. That would be a tough challenge for any player, but particularly for a rookie who's still learning the nuances of his own position.
The matchup-obsessed 49ers took note of Boley's absence and they went right after Paysinger and Jones, scoring two touchdowns within a 65-second stretch of the fourth quarter. The scores proved decisive when another spirited Giants comeback ultimately fell short.
The first touchdown came on a 31-yard pitch-and-catch to tight end Vernon Davis. The 49ers lined up with a tight bunch of three receivers to one side. Every time they showed that formation in the first half, Davis charged down the field.
But this time, Davis streaked across the field and nobody followed him. He caught a 6-yard pass from Alex Smith, turned toward the end zone and vaulted at the 4-yard line into the arms of safety Antrel Rolle. The momentum carried both Davis and Rolle over the goal line.
Jones expected Davis to go up field with his route.
"I should have taken him carrying it across," Jones said. "That is something we went over. We communicated. I have to take full responsibility on that one."
The play also occurred so fast, it caught Jones flat-footed.
"It happened kind of fast for me," Jones admitted.
If Boley is out for a considerable amount of time, Jones will have to become more comfortable with calling the plays. Giants coach Tom Coughlin wasn't sure when Boley might be back. "How bad it is, I don't know," Coughlin said.
If Boley misses games, Paysinger will need to bring a veteran's acumen to the position. "He goes in and tries hard," Coughlin said of Paysinger. "He goes in with the look in his eye and goes to work."
On the 49ers' second touchdown of the fourth quarter, a 17-yard bolt by rookie running back Kendall Hunter, Paysinger admitted he got caught in the 49ers' motion. San Francisco likes to pull its guards, and Paysinger went with the "pullers" on the play. When Hunter cut back, there was no one there and he had a relatively free pass into the end zone.
"They are pulling guards, pulling fullbacks and tight ends, but that's their offense," Paysinger said. "We have a good defense they just got us on that one play."
Without Boley, Paysinger and Jones are likely to become targets -- something Coughlin knows all too well.
"[With] your starting middle backer out, the guy that calls all the defenses, was having an outstanding year, you are going to miss him," Coughlin said.